Published: June 1, 2017 By

The Innovation University 


One of your three campus imperatives, along with developing tomorrow’s leaders and positively impacting humanity, is to be the top university for innovation. Why is this important?

Innovation is what makes the university run more efficiently, gives our students the skills and mindset to be impact leaders and drives new discoveries that create new products and technologies that impact humanity and our economy.

Let’s break this down. How does it make the university more efficient and why is this important?

The more efficiently we run, the less dependent we are on tuition and state funding for financial support. It’s one reason we’ve been able to offer a fouryear tuition guarantee and single-digit increases for new students. Our chief financial officer is offering innovation workshops and seed-grant funding to staff to pursue innovations. The resulting ideas have been inspirational — drones for exterior building maintenance inspections, interpretative earbuds to cross the language barrier, especially among maintenance staff, a scholarship pilot program to incorporate nontraditional forms of achievement in admissions criteria. These are just a few of five dozen submissions she received, and it gets the whole university thinking creatively.

How are you seeing this mindset present itself in students?

We have a robust venture capital and start-up accelerator system supported by the community to help students bring their innovations to the marketplace. Two examples just this spring: A battery made of spent brewery water that will store renewable energy, and an adjustable socket for amputee limbs. Both of these resulted in student companies that will impact humanity.

We haven’t even mentioned faculty yet.

That could be a whole other conversation. But, briefly, faculty have founded everything from Engineers Without Borders, impacting 2.5 million people, to pharmaceuticals reaching millions worldwide in the fight against serious illness.

This initiative seems personal to you.

We have a rich legacy of innovation. Digital depth of field on your cellphone camera began in a CU Boulder lab. The laser was developed by a CU alumnus in 1960, and the first object printed by 3D printer — a plastic cup — was made by an alumnus in 1983. His company, 3D Systems, recently helped surgeons reconstruct the facial bones of a young man injured by a landmine in Zimbabwe. When our university can impact humanity in such important ways, it feels very personal. 
Illustration by Melinda Josie